Nik's Technology Blog

Travels through programming, networks, and computers

Plex Media Server Hardware - A NAS, Old PC or Custom PC?

Even though some NAS providers advertise their products as "having" Plex Media Server apps, all but the most expensive and powerful cannot actually perform video transcoding, all they can do is direct play and direct stream content. This is fine if all your devices support the media you have, but it is very restrictive and misleading.

Video transcoding is very CPU intensive task and consumer NAS boxes have low powered CPUs, they aren't designed for CPU intensive tasks.

You can store your media on a NAS and use a PC to run Plex Media Server to do all the heavy lifting, however when you factor in the cost of a NAS and the hard disks, to me it made more sense to either use an existing PC or a new custom built PC and add the hard disks directly to the PC. This also reduces the latency of accessing the content from the NAS over the network.

After deciding against using a NAS for Plex, I went about checking what the requirements are to run Plex Media Server on a PC.

My current PC is old and in need of replacement, but perhaps I could upgrade the storage and when I buy a new PC at a later date, the old one can become a dedicated media streaming box?

The Plex website has some guidance on how much CPU power you need for running Plex Server. Based on the benchmark score of 3057 PassMark for my old CPU I was able to confirm it is capable of streaming at least one 1080p stream.

The alternative would have been to build a new custom PC especially for Plex, but I don't have that sort of spare cash at the moment.

Storage for Plex Movies

I had already installed Plex Media Server on my PC and had been pleasantly surprised by how good the software was, so much so that I now wanted to rip all my DVDs to hard disk. After a few calculations I figured out I would need quite a bit more storage to hold all my ripped DVDs for use with Plex Media Server.

Originally I thought that a NAS device might be the way forward. I could get a four bay device for future expandability, and upon first glance it appeared that PMS would run on selected NAS boxes too. I almost bought a four bay Netgear ReadyNAS, until I read that the CPU in most NAS boxes just isn't up to the task of transcoding video.

That would mean the NAS would just store the content and the PC would need to be switched on to act as the Plex Server. This to me, just didn't seem worth it.

Why not just add some extra hard disks to my PC I thought? But what about the added benefit of RAID you get from a NAS?...

I ended up buying some 4TB WD Red NAS hard disk drives and using Storage Spaces in Windows 10 to set up resiliency, mimicking the RAID you get from a NAS box.

Ripping a DVD Collection to Plex

It was probably around 2002 or 2003 that I ripped all my CD collection to MP3 so I could listen on the move, which I recall was a painful process. So the thought so doing the same with my DVD collection wasn't too appealing.

As this was going to be a painful process I only wanted to do this once, so I spent some time deciding on the video codec and container to use.

Plex works with most codecs and containers (except ISO disc images). This is one of the best things about Plex Media Server. It transcodes the video on-the-fly depending what hardware the Plex client is able to play. This enables you to watch video on phones, tablets, smart TVs etc and not have to care whether they play AVI, MP4, MKV etc...

I also don't want to recode all the DVDs during the process as this would take too long and potentially degrade the video quality.

The final solution was a two stage process.

  1. Rip each DVD using DVD Fab into VOB files.
  2. Use MakeMKV Batch Converter to merge the VOB files into the MKV container.

All that was needed then was a load more hard disk space!

Plex via a NOW TV box

After reading how to sideload a Plex client on a NOW TV box I decided to pick one up during the Black Friday sale for £14.99. 

They are basically Roku 3 boxes rebranded as NOW TV (Owned by Sky TV) and feature a limited app store with competing apps such as NetFlix and LoveFilm removed.

I am thinking of using Plex Media Server as a way of ditching my Blu Ray player and ripping all my DVDs to stop my kids scratching them to pieces. Plex indexes the movies and downloads the covers and descriptions from internet movie databases.

Because the NOW TV box has a limited app store, Plex is not available to download directly, so it needs to be sideloaded onto the box.

Sideloading the Roku Plex client onto the NOW TV box basically involves accessing the developer part of the box and installing a package file, which takes 5 minutes.

The box is very stable via WiFi and wired Ethernet and is a very good Plex client especially considering the price.

I'll write another post when I get around to ripping my DVD collection to hard disk.

Supported Video File Formats for NEXTBASE Car DVD players

I bought some 7" dual portable NEXTBASE CAR DVD players to entertain the kids in the car, which are also capable of playing video from a USB stick. However they are very fussy with the video formats and containers they will play.

There is no mention in the manual about what types are supported from recollection, so I spent a few minutes of searching and experimentation trying find a compatible format. I wasn't having much luck until I stumbled on the details tucked away on the NextBase website!

Basically you need to use DivX format.

They suggest using the official DivX converter with the following settings:

  • Use the “DivX Home Theatre” option.
  • Try to keep to the 720 x 408 dimensions, as this is a 16:9 ratio (or 1.77 ratio) so will fill the screen.
  • With the default settings applied, the Video bitrate should be left alone, but if you want to adjust around 1500Kbps.

Normally a frame rate of 25frames per second will result, no need to adjust this.

You can also record multiple DivX movies on to disc. Both CD-R (720Mb) and DVD (4.7Gb) disc are compatible. Although some DVD players may require the file extension to be changed to “.avi” in order to play correctly.

Freesat for free HD TV in the UK

If you haven't already heard about Freesat then you should look into it, I'm not referring to the free satellite service from Sky, but the new not-for-profit organisation set up by the BBC and ITV to help distribute digital TV to areas of the UK where Freeview signals are not strong enough.
If you also own a new high definition capable flat screen TV or are looking to buy one you should also investigate Freesat. Not only will it allow a greater percentage of British population to receive digital TV for free, it also carries free high definition content. Currently BBC HD and ITV HD channels, which are far superior to their standard definition channels.

Essentially you need a satellite dish and a new set-top box or Freesat capable TV to receive the broadcasts. The Freesat service uses the same satellite as Sky, so it is apparently possible to use a Sky dish and plug in a Freesat tuner instead of a Sky box.

According to a sales assistant in my local Richer Sounds every retailer stocking Freesat equipment has to be a registered Freesat installer and they charge a set fee of £80 to install the service for you. This install price is set by Freesat and should be the same for each registered installer.

Panasonic have announced the first TV with a Freesat tuner built-in which should be launched in time for the Olympic games, which should be broadcast in HD on the BBC HD channel.

Can Freesat and Sky Co-exist?

What I'm wondering is, can Sky and Freesat be picked up with the same dish simultaneously? If you have a quad LNB on the dish and a additional run of coaxial cable to the Freesat box?

If so, you could have high definition TV in more than one room and you wouldn't have to pay Sky's multi-room fee, you also get to keep Sky in one room so you can pick up those channels not available on Freesat, like Living TV etc.

I asked this question to the sales guys at the Panasonic stand in the Bluewater shopping centre who were demonstrating the new Freesat capable panels and although they'll admit that you can use a Sky dish to receive Freesat, they're not sure about the 2 services co-existing.

If they won't co-exist maybe they can be switched? After all how many people want a second dish stuck to their house?
Personally, I could make do without the garbage US TV shows Sky broadcasts, but it might upset my girlfriend if she's unable to watch her shows :-)

How to get the BBC iPlayer on your Nintendo Wii

You can now get the BBC iPlayer on the Nintendo Wii games console!

Before you can start watching programmes broadcast on the BBC over the last 7 days you'll need to connect your Wii console to the Internet (see instructions below) and download the Opera web browser from the Wii Store (Which costs 500 Wii points or about 3.50 Pounds Sterling).

Before you can buy Wii points to purchase the Opera web browser you'll first need to register online at www.nintendo-europe.com and "link" your Wii console to the Nintendo account you just created online, Nintendo have a guide on how to link your Wii Shop Channel Account to your Club Nintendo Account.

Once you've linked your account to your Wii console you need to go to the Wii Shop accessed from the Wii Home Menu on the console and purchase (by using a credit or debit card to buy some Wii points) and download the "Internet Channel".

Once downloaded and installed you're ready to go!

From the Wii Home Menu select "Internet Channel" and navigate to www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer, you can then use your Wii remote to zoom, pan and scroll around the web and the iPlayer.

You can read more info about the BBC iPlayer on the Wii console at BBC Internet Blog.


To connect your Nintendo Wii console to the Internet with Wi-Fi follow these steps:

  1. Go to the Wii home menu
  2. Select "Wii options" on the bottom left
  3. Click on "Wii settings" on the right
  4. Click the right arrow
  5. Select Internet
  6. Click "Connection Settings"
  7. Select "Connection 1"
  8. Choose "Wireless Connection"
  9. Select "Search for Access Point"
  10. Click "Ok"
  11. You should be presented with a list of local wireless routers, select your wireless router from the list
  12. If your wireless router is secure, you'll be prompted to enter your Wi-Fi password
  13. Click to save your connection settings
  14. Click "Ok"
  15. The Wii will now test your connection and then prompt you to perform a system update, click "Yes"
  16. Return to the Wii menu when prompted

High Definition DVD War: Good for Consumers in the Long Run?

To get the best out of your high definition TV you'll quite possibly want to invest in a next generation DVD format, but the manufacturers' unfortunately for us (the consumer) couldn't agree on a single disk format, so we are currently watching the HD-DVD and Blu-ray camps fight it out.

The consumer doesn't really care what format wins, all the consumer cares about is being able to watch high definition content. What makes matters worse is that the film studios are not releasing their movies on both formats. So no matter which one you choose, you'll only be able to get a selection of the current movies available. That is unless you purchase an expensive dual format HD-DVD and Blu-ray player.

The possible outcomes of this battle are:

  1. HD-DVD wins, we throw out our existing Blu-ray players and buy HD-DVD, but continue to pay for Blu-ray when we buy a Playstation 3.
  2. Blu-ray wins, we throw out our existing HD-DVD players and buy Blu-ray.
  3. Neither win, we all have to buy dual format machines.

One Good Outcome of the High-Def DVD Battle For Consumers

One point that Oliver Van Wynendaele, a manager at Toshiba made on a recent episode of BBC Click, is that the next-gen DVD war is causes the prices of players to drop far quicker than the cost of current standard definition DVD players did when they were first released.

"Last year we launched our product at 600 euros (£428), I knew the price would go down within a year but I didn't expect it to be so fast."
"We are half the price of where we were one year ago. The DVD took three years to cut the price in half," ~ Oliver Van Wynendaele, Toshiba

Powerline Networking Now Fast Enough For Streaming HD Content

I've decided to give up waiting for the 802.11n standard to be ratified. When you spend hard earned cash on a piece of kit, you want to have some confidence that it will work in a year or so. Most of the high-end routers on sale today use a proprietary pre-802.11n or draft 802.11n, which may or may not be compatible with devices that meet the standard, when the IEEE pull their finger out.

What is Powerline networking?

Powerline networking has been around for sometime. Essentially it uses your electrical mains wiring as the media to send data over as if it were category 5 cable. You simply plug a box into the wall socket, which converts these signals that multiplex over the mains wiring to Ethernet. Typically you'd have one next to your router, which connects to your routers Ethernet socket, and the other in the room where your computer is located.

Advantages of Powerline over Wireless networking?

One of the main advantages of Powerline networking over Wi-Fi is that there are no dead spots where you can't get a good connection. As long as you are near a mains outlet, you can have a connection; Albeit with an Ethernet cable connected to the wall.

The latest batch of Powerline networking kits are sporting theoretical speeds of up to 200Mbps! Although in practice, overhead in the system, mains wiring and the 100Base-T outputs limit this maximum throughput; However, I have been getting speeds of over 100Mbps along my mains wiring, easily more than 802.11g, and more reliable too.

Installation does not require software drivers, it literally is a case of plugging them into the wall sockets, and connecting up the Ethernet cables and turning them on. This also means out-of-the-box Linux, Vista and OSX support! They'll also work with games machines and media extenders, or any other piece of kit that has an Ethernet port.

I purchased the Devolo HomePlug dLAN 200 AVDesk Starter Kit, which comes with two HomePlug adapters. They include Quality of Service for uninterrupted Internet TV and IP telephony circuitry, and they were given a "best buy" from PC Pro magazine.

There are other manufacturers who produce Powerline networking equipment, like Netgear's HD Powerline adapters, but after reading this review in PC Pro I decided to opt for the devices that conform to the Powerline AV standard.

The Rise and Fall of User Generated Content?

Another day another ludicrous allegation about cyberspace. Apparently..."The vast majority of blogs on top social websites contain potentially offensive material."

This was the conclusion of a ScanSafe commissioned report, which claims sites such as MySpace, YouTube and Blogger which are a "hit" among children can hold porn or adult language. According to the report 1 in 20 blogs contains a virus or some sort of malicious spyware.

The Problem?

User generated content is to blame of course; because of the nature of how the content is built and edited it makes it very difficult to control and regulate.


Even if you were to monitor every post on a website as part of your process, how would you clarify whether a particular portion of text, or Photoshopped image has violated anyone's copyright or intellectual property?


This is a problem the big search engines have as well. With so many SPAM sites scrapping content from other sites, then republishing the resulting mashed content as their own work in order to cash-in on affiliate income generated from SERPS. Is Google working on a solution to stem this SPAM?

EU Intellectual Property Ruling

Another potential blow to websites which rely on user generated content is the European Union ruling on intellectual property which is making its way through the ratification process. This could see ISP's and website owners being charged for copyright infringements even if the data was posted by users of the site.